From Brenda in Hove, UK: “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky …”

Hove Beach, UK. a sunny day for beach huts

28 May. So far we have been told to take our exercise close to home (really, Dominic) and I have obeyed that instruction. The brakes seem to be coming off somewhat so I ventured down to the Hove seafront today. It is officially half term for the schools and normally we would see thousands of tourists on the beach-front but the town councillors warnings to people to stay away from Brighton and Hove seem to have had effect – even in the glorious weather we are enjoying.

There were quite a few people on the beach and in the sea – but distances more than respected – and the same went for the promenade (and not a mask in sight). It was more than a very relaxed and pleasant experience; it was so normal; it was a joy! .

People had also returned to their beach huts and there was an unusual amount of DIY going on.  Quite a few are scruffy and one wonders why some people don’t sell their huts if they clearly haven’t used them for years. They sell for something between £16,000 and £25,000. High price to pay! Anyway, hot owners out in force, with their deck chairs and picnic tables hauled out and the kettles on – and much sun worshipping in evidence.  

Much to my surprise, Hove lagoon café was open for take-away after being closed since lock-down. Hurry on over! Chips on the beach – new special treat. Another joy! Really. Nothing like a pleasure denied and then allowed.

Table tennis being played but lagoon and children’s playgrounds and paddling pool not in use. I miss the sound of small children playing.

Cyclists much in evidence as usual and it is worth noting that the line-up of bicycles provided by the Council had been added to – and there were lots of newly painted cycle lanes on the way to the beach.

What I had sorely missed was just looking at the sea. We have lived near the sea for more than half our lives and I never tire of contemplating the waves and the sun playing on the water. Such bliss to be able to indulge such a simple pleasure again.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Time to show up

Rural community in Northern KwazuluNatal, South Africa

20 May. My son, Ian, lives in South Africa, inland from Durban on the East Coast in the province of KwaZulu Natal. It is a spectacular part of the country which is rich in beautiful landscapes. It has many conservation areas, game parks and nature reserves which are visited by people from all over the world – or used to be, at least. Like other countries, South Africa has been in lock-down and there is certainly no tourism. South Africa had 67 million international visitors in 2018 and their contribution to GDP was estimated at 8.5% and growing.

It is not difficult to imagine what this has done to the people who depend on tourism for their livelihoods – no more real than in rural communities far away from cities and adjacent to the wildlife reserves that serve as employers to the local communities and through which tourists used to pass.

Last week Ian, a part time expedition member with the Kingsley Holgate Foundation, joined Kingsley and several others who have started a movement called “Feeding the Wildlife Communities”( to deliver 4.5 tonnes of food to communities in very remote areas who are suffering terribly under the COVID lockdown conditions that currently grip South Africa.

The 3 tonnes was purchased from the Potchefstroom Chamber of Commerce and the remaining 1.5 tonnes generously donated by the DO MORE foundation (part of RCL foods). 

The journey was a 1200 km round trip that took them up to northern KwaZulu, Natal, right on the border of Mozambique and Swaziland distributing food along the way. When Ian told me about it, I have to say I was beside myself with anxiety. I remembered a time when there was a horrendous flood in the province and my sons were teenagers and volunteered with the Red Cross to collect and distribute clothes and food – and had to be accompanied by armed soldiers. The thought of a few Land Rovers laden with food destroyed my sleep for the weekend.

Coolest kid ever

I should have known better. These are not amateurs. The team had already done two initial runs and set up a system through local indunas (elders in a tribe and in positions of authority). They were expecting the convoy and were prepped ahead of time so that when the convoy arrived, the local induna who received the parcels did so accompanied by five witnesses, and distribution was an orderly exercise. Everyone wore masks – and just as well in more ways than one. Ian said he was overcome by the levels of poverty and sheer despair.

School house – without a roof

It turned out that it wasn’t only food that was a problem. Right near the distribution point was a school: walls, windows, floors, roof beams – but no roof! A tornado had torn it off and much that was inside as well as the schooling was thrown into disarray. Ian is passionate about early learning (ages 0-6) and his company, Barrows, are much engaged in printing and distributing educational materials into this space.

Ian went straight into fund-raising mode.

Readers who are interested need to put ‘SCHOOL ROOF’ in the narrative box (and the Rand exchange rate is at an all-time high – so a little goes a long way). I was so pleased to at least do something.

From Brenda in Hove, UK: Brave New World

15 May: Under the new “stay alert” strictures I have gone out to discover what changes have been wrought in my immediate environment. Joy of joys, we went to our favourite garden centre, dutifully queued up at 2 metres intervals, for about twenty minutes, to gain entrance. One person in, one person out. When I got into the centre, it put a damper on me thinking there was a queue outside and I couldn’t just wander about, picking and choosing in the usual way. I happened to know what I wanted and found them very quickly and was out in about 15 minutes. Not so others – ambling aimlessly about, retracing their footsteps, forgetting about the 2 metre rule, looking vaguely anxious – and not alert. At one time I was in an aisle where people were queued and one person’s phone rang. She stopped dead to answer it and completely forgot we were all waiting behind her. When I reminded her, she got really cross! The whole excursion wasn’t much fun – but I did come home clutching some beautiful fuchsias.

I was interested to note that I was the only person wearing a mask. This is also not much fun. I wear hearing aids and spectacles and when you hook a mask behind your ear as well, it gets really crowded behind there! The hearing aid got caught in the mask elastic and fell off – and I didn’t notice until much later. After much searching, luckily, I found it in the car. And, by the way, if you wear spectacles and the mask isn’t very tightly fitted, your spectacles mist up. Holy mackerel.

The park is much more lively, I am happy to report. All the tennis courts were in use (singles only). Why on earth they could not have played all this time is a mystery to me – just one of many other mysteries. People were sitting on the lawns and enjoying the sunny weather – many of them alone or with their children. Again, innocent enough to have happened before now. Presumably they now know they have to be alert! Every now and again one can’t help noticing obsessive behaviour. No matter what time of day I go out there is always the same young man (in his twenties, I would think) shooting a ball into the basketball net – over and over again. His success rate is abysmal. I linger to see if he is getting better. He is not – but not for want of trying. He must be ill. There are lots more people, mostly young, who are clearly meeting with one or two friends (mothers with push chairs, for example) – and they are not being too fussy about the two metre rule. Not a lert to be seen – just when our country needs them.  

From Brenda in Hove: Zoom with a view

11 May: With so many interviews and programmes showing people sitting at their computers it seems that I am not the only one who finds interest in the backgrounds rather than the interview! A couple of weeks ago The Financial Times had a column on the rooms from which some politicians broadcast – and drew all sorts of conclusions, some not very flattering. They chose the heading ‘zoom with a view’.

I have spent several years attending meetings by one video link or another and always take care not only with my own appearance and what I wear but also the view I present to the rest of the meeting. I am acutely aware that my presence is being projected onto a screen in the board room (or wherever) where I am actually larger than life – and that has obvious disadvantages. I know that people in the meeting can see not only me but the books in the bookcase behind me – and even read their titles. I don’t take any chances that they might be uninterested!

Not so many of the people we see online at the moment. I am amazed (I suppose I should be admiring) that so few seem to care about what we see of their homes, bookcases, kitchens, etc. Simon Sharma endeared himself to me by having the most chaotic book shelves ever. Books piled upon books, books on the floor, books on tables, books simply everywhere. Thomas Piketty drew my admiration by having well-organised, red bookshelves; lots of books looking their very best offset by red. Why is he the only one to have red bookshelves? By contrast, Angela Rippon recommended herself to me by having the most immaculate presentation. She didn’t have a hair out of place (no mean feat in lock-down), her make-up was perfect, her dress was just right and behind her was an orchid and a vase of fresh flowers on an otherwise uncluttered surface and uncluttered wall. I like attention to detail.

And then there are those who have bookcases but no books; instead they load up the shelves with their trophies and awards. Often the walls behind them display framed awards as well. They seem to occupy shrines rather than homes and I wonder what their long-suffering partners and families think of this form of decoration.  Damien Green, of all people, recommended himself by having an Alan Gourley (my husband’s uncle) painting behind him.

My favourite interviews are those where the interviewee doesn’t have total control of his/her surroundings; partners, children, dogs, and cats all have bit parts. In lock-down it doesn’t do to be too judgmental. One gets one’s pleasures where one can!  And sometimes I enjoy the interview for its intrinsic merit.

From Brenda in Hove: In transition

We moved house a few months ago. Our new home needed cupboards and bookshelves so we put a lot of books and clothes into storage and unpacked the rest. We got as far as having one set of cupboards and one set of bookshelves installed before lock-down made any further work possible. Piles of books prop up the TV set. Boxes of books are squirreled away here and there and cupboards are uncomfortably full. We feel as if we are camping, waiting for a time when we can get on with alterations, settle into our new home, and create order.

It has got me to thinking how many people were in some sort of transition when the country went into lockdown.

I hear tales of people who had decided to leave their partners but are stuck having to live with them because they can’t look for alternative accommodation at this time.

I read about people whose cancer treatments have been suspended. Doctors, we are told are worried about people who are postponing going to hospital or their general practitioners in the normal way to discuss symptoms that may well be serious. There are significant drops in the number of people attending Accident and Emergency Departments. They can’t all be suddenly well.

These are not the only kind of treatments postponed. There are people who need the kind of help that Alcoholics Anonymous provided. The AA website reads “whilst our ability to help you during the coronavirus crisis may be restricted our willingness is not.” A telephone number is at least provided.

There are people with all sorts of mental health problems and, not only is their access to help put on hold, but their mental health will surely deteriorate in isolation.

I hear of vulnerable children who normally live in some sort of care facility who have now been sent home for their families to simply do the best they can – however unequipped they may be.

I wonder what percentage of people had their lives in some kind of steady state when lock-down went into operation. I suspect a whole lot fewer than we think.

The ‘pause’ button has been pressed for all of us. What choices will we have when lock-down ends? I suspect the ‘play from where you left off’ button won’t be an option for everyone. The ‘play from the beginning’ button won’t work. The ‘fast forward’ button might work as many of us frantically try to catch up on lost time. But, sadly, for many people life has been irretrievably changed. The new economy, for one thing, will see to that.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Keep Calm and Play Bridge

3 May. About three years ago I decided to go to the local Adult Education college and learn to play bridge. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. After finally giving up work and living in a town to which I had relatively recently moved, bridge lessons were something I could commit to on a regular basis and I might well meet new friends. I did make new friends, bonded in the forge provided by a very fierce teacher, and I could not have known that the game would get me through many hours of amusement and companionship in the time of Covid-19.

The last time the local Bridge Club met in late March, there was a fearful to-do when the director of the Club discovered that one of the members had just come back from skiing in Northern Italy. She and her partner were summarily thrown out, much to their mortification. All the spraying of the tables, the personal sanitizing of each member’s hands and the use of new packs of cards was thrown into relief by the realization that this was no longer a game to be played in club conditions. The Bridge Club was closed and who knows whether it will ever open again – given its members are largely retirees.

So now a few of us notify one of us who wants to play virtually every day (two sessions) and she lets us know who is playing and at what time. In addition to using an online website, we use group Whatsapp so we can all see and hear each other. It works perfectly. The Whatsapp group is aptly named  “Survivor bridge”.

Recently we moved to a new site (Bridge Base Online) and that site mirrors a bridge club because you get scored against other players online who have been dealt the same hand. It also offers you the chance of playing against the computer – and ranks you against other people playing the same hands. Yesterday I was tired and in need of distraction so I went online. My first game I was ranked 22,840. That was me, gone for the afternoon. I battled my way down to 850 and then 60. Holy mackerel. I will probably never manage that again. I went to bed exhausted!

There is a saying attributed to the Rueful Rabbit, a character created by Victor Mollo: “Bridge is a great comfort in your old age. It also helps you get there faster.”         

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Happy 100th Birthday to Captain Tom Moore!

Captain Tom Moore – now Colonel

30 April: One of the top news stories today is Captain Tom’s birthday. It is the story of an elderly war veteran who, a few weeks ago decided that he would walk a hundred laps of his garden (25 metres a time) before he reached his 100th birthday and he would ask people to sponsor his walk with the proceeds to go to the NHS Charities. The walk was not that easy. He is dependent on a walker and he is very bent – but he soldiered on. His effort touched the hearts of the people and he has, to date, raised over £30 million. Soldiers from his old regiment lined the path of his last lap and on his birthday he even got a Battle of Britain memorial fly past of a Spitfire and a Hurricane as well as messages from all over the country, including The Queen and the Prime Minister. Thousands of birthday cards have flooded a church hall nearby – and given the inability to shop for such things, they are mostly handmade, many from children.

As if that were not enough, he recorded a duet with Michael Ball and set a new chart record after his cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone hit number one last Friday. The then 99-year-old  became the oldest artist to reach number one on the official UK singles chart in its 70-year history.

It is easy to see why this story has touched so many people at this time. It teaches us a simple lesson: you do not have to be a victim, you do not have to be helpless, you too can act, have goals and make a difference – even if you are 100 years old. In the interviews with the Captain (now an honorary Colonel) you meet a modest man – despite his life accomplishments and war experience – who remains optimistic and whose main message is that “we’ll never walk alone”, that we will survive this time and tomorrow will be a better day.

British readers will be very familiar with this story but for those readers elsewhere in the world, it is a tale worth recording here.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Cleaning and other forms of saintly behaviour

28 April: One of my sisters has always been very house-proud, even before she had domestic help. With lock-down in South Africa being as fierce as it is, she is without help, elderly and has multiple health problems to boot. Keeping up is proving too much for her.   I reminded her of the American comedian, Erma Bombeck’s theory on housework: “if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?” She was not amused.

I actually prefer another of Bombeck’s sayings: “I can’t see the point of housework,” she said. “You clean everything and then six months later, you have to do it all over again.” I certainly didn’t expect to have to involve myself quite so much in the cleaning side of things until Covid-19 took away the option. When my cleaner sent a text yesterday suggesting that we go to the park for an hour or so while she cleaned, I cracked. We agreed elaborate hand-over procedures and next week I am at least partially free again. I reckon it is possible that, for me at least, housework could be more depressing than lock-down. Three laps of the park will do me fine while she works away.

One of the many things that used to distinguish Nelson Mandela from other important guests at big functions was that he would always ask to see the cleaners and the kitchen staff and personally thank them for their part in making the function a successful one. When you are locked up all those years as he was (27 to be precise) and you have to undertake all the menial but necessary tasks that keep your life orderly, you don’t take them for granted.

I saw this in action the first time I met Mandela. He was relatively newly released from prison and came to Durban to address the first ever combined meeting of the two big student associations in South Africa, one representing black students and the other representing white students. The Vice Chancellor’s residence was judged to be a secure enough place for him to have lunch and a rest before the meeting – and I was lucky enough to be his host.

We had a very lively and relaxed lunch and he regaled me with all sorts of stories about his life on the run. His staff had told me that, with his busy schedule, he simply had to have a 30 minute rest after lunch. So at 2pm I told him that he couldn’t imagine what his staff would do to me if I didn’t make sure he had a rest. “Ah!” he sighed. “I have gone from one prison to another.” And then, before he took a rest, he went into the kitchen to thank the staff hovering there and hoping for a glimpse of the great man.

P.S. His message to the students was “study hard and pass your exams. We need qualified people in our country.”


from Brenda in Hove, UK: Some things have to change!

25 April: I am not a person who likes routine. This quiet life that Corona has visited upon me, and the  routines, I find very irksome. This week I sought to change at least some things. Other changes were thrust upon me!

  1. I decided that my daily walk in the park would incorporate a walk through the meditative maze in the park. This particular maze is a “labyrinth-like design based on a fingerprint set into the turf using stone, on a slight incline in the park”. Such a design is said to be “an ancient, mystical pattern – a meandering path to the centre, which is often used to symbolize the journey through life.” Rather unlike life, the labyrinth has only one path to the centre, requiring no decision and allowing the mind free to contemplate – in theory. I set off rather pleased at the prospect of something different only to find that two people were sitting right in the middle of the maze – and showing no signs of moving. Pipped at the post. Tomorrow is another day. And the day after that.
  2. Our shopping list has been, more or less, the same – week after week. Nice enough dinners but the sameness is what gets one. An Instagram advert presented the possibility of a change. A company called #Mindfulchef delivers – once a week – a box containing five selected recipes and all the ingredients necessary. Everything is fresh – and all are gluten free. Today is Day One of a more adventuresome diet. Can’t remember when I was more pleased.
  3. I have big plans for my balcony garden. Getting planters and pots was easy enough but pot trays impossible. I couldn’t get potting soil either. Everybody who could was out there, gardening their heads off! Finally a kind gardener I know said he would deliver potting soil and some plants to my front door – if I put out plastic sheeting. His choice of plants, not mine. Beggars can’t be choosers. Nearly fifty plants and eight (eight!) bags of soil were duly deposited in the passage outside our door. I already had taken delivery of three dozen plug plants. The first hurdle was the absence of crock. We have recently moved and I didn’t think to bring such a thing with me. Any delivery that entails polystyrene has been greeted with unusual delight and I spend evenings pummeling pieces of polystyrene into suitable sizes to go at the bottom of my pots – and, in the process scattering little white balls all over the apartment. Some routine that! Watering not a simple matter either: one watering can at a time from the kitchen to the balcony – taking care to only water when the woman in the flat below me is safely tucked in bed and cannot be rained on from above! This is not gardening as I know it. Bloody but unbowed, I continue.
  4. I signed up with the Commonwealth of Learning to act as a mentor for young women in far-flung places. I was informed of the names of my mentees today. None of my present cohort would imagine that they are doing me a much greater favour than I am doing them. I will tell them!

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Why are some people so unconcerned?

22 April: My daughter, her husband and my grand-daughter live in Florida. My daughter is a nurse. She doesn’t need to be told that covid19 is serious. She knows that very well – and has to go to work every day in that knowledge. Her fellow citizens in Florida however, including the Governor, don’t seem to be that concerned at all. Even when the Governor, one of the last Governors to do so, called for a ‘stay-at-home’, his order listed “essential services” to encompass “attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship” – and indeed, he actively encouraged people to attend Easter services. This order was supposed to be in force from 3 April to 30 April but, surprise, surprise, he opened various beaches on 17 April. Sure enough, people flocked to them provoking a rather unpleasant hashtag trend ‘FloridaMorons’ – and there are all sorts of people tweeting that they have a right to respond to the virus in any way they please without being labelled in this way.

Apart from having a vested interest in Florida being rendered as safe a possible during this time, I am fascinated by what makes people scared of one virus and not others. I am reading a book called Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond  by Sonia Shah and she asks the question: “why do some pathogens provoke yawns while others trigger panic?”  Americans have not been particularly disturbed by Lyme disease, dengue (which, by the way, is likely to become endemic in Florida), malaria or rabies but they were absolutely terrified by Ebola. The terror took on a name “Ebolanoia”. Shah concludes that it didn’t seem to matter “that Ebola was easily and simply avoided”, it was “its untamable nature that was at the root of the panic.” Corona virus statistics clearly don’t frighten and the death rate, except for specific categories, is relatively low. So far.

Polls in Britain show that the British are concerned, support the lock-down measures and reduced train and car travel suggests people are obeying the rules (#TheEconomist, 18 April)

One can’t resist pondering whether the difference lies, partly, in the messaging from the leaders in the two countries. In Britain, the Government’s message is unequivocal: “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” – and it is repeated all the time on all media. Maybe it is the positioning of ‘protect the NHS’ that strikes such a strong chord. It seems to me to be an excellent communication.

In sharp contrast, in the United States, the messaging from the glorious leader has been confusing, obfuscating and sometimes, downright wrong.

We know that this pandemic will change the world in many ways, unknowable right now but we should call governments to account for their unpreparedness for this pandemic. That is something that should concern us all. It shouldn’t happen again quite like this. I recommend  Shah’s TED talk: